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VERY WISE GUY; How Big Frankie (the FBI agent posing as a mobster) blew apart America's biggest crime family.

Byline: ANDY LINES US Editor in New York

TO the Genovese Mafia family in New York he was Big Frankie, whose skill was disposing of getaway cars and smuggling cigarettes and alcohol.

If they needed to pull off an insurance scam there was only one man for the job - Big Frankie, the wisecracking trucker from Virginia.

He was so trusted by the Mafia leaders he was invited to their weddings, christenings and birthday parties.

But yesterday the Genovese family were stunned to discover the real identity of Big Frankie.

He was not a trucker but an undercover detective with the New York Police Department.

Last night 73 people, including 34 members of the family, were behind bars as police celebrated smashing the core of the biggest Mafia organisation in America.

The unnamed 32-year-old detective is being praised for his heroic role.

It is being compared to the film Donnie Brasco - starring Johnny Depp as real life FBI man Joe Pistone, who infiltrated the Bonnano family in the 70s.

Big Frankie was quickly accepted into the family and for two and a half years sat in on weekly meetings and secretly recorded conversations with gang members.

FBI chief Barry Mawn, who oversaw the joint operation, said: "He risked his safety on an almost daily basis. He was very well taken in by the bad guys. He was extremely proficient at his job.

"The family has been infiltrated in one of the most successful and significant undercover operations in law enforcement history.

"The family, the most powerful and most secretive crime group, has been dealt yet another severe blow."

But Big Frankie has had to leave New York.

He started accidentally bumping into gangsters on the streets near his Staten Island home. He and his parents now live under new names in another state.

He knows there will be a price on his head and will spend the rest of his life looking over his shoulder.

The Genovese family is run by Vincent "The Chin" Gigante, who is already in jail. He has been dubbed The Oddfather for his eccentric behaviour, such as wearing slippers and a bathrobe to court appearances and putting up an umbrella in the shower.

Big Frankie was accepted because he was introduced to key Mafia figure Joseph Savarese by a man who was also working with the FBI.

When Savarese was arrested, detectives brought Big Frankie to see him at FBI headquarters in Manhattan. Savarese thought his "friend" had been captured as well - and was stunned when he learned he was a policeman. One detective said: "The blood drained from Savarese's face and he turned white. He was shocked."

Savarese was taken to jail charged with plotting to steal a pounds 4million payroll from the New York Times.

Big Frankie foiled the robbery with information he passed to the police. During his undercover operation he was a regular visitor to Patsy's Rigoletto restaurant in the the Bronx, where much Genovese business was done.

It is owned by Pasquale "Patsy" Parrello - now accused of embezzling pounds 650,000 from the Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners benefit funds.

Others held were engaged in old fashioned mob work such as stealing and scrapping cars.

Savario "Sammy" Bizzarro robbed a bank. Anthony "Little Anthony" Capanelli is accused of using his job at the New York Times to arrange the foiled payroll robbery.

The Genovese family is New York's oldest and largest - with about 225 members - and the most sophisticated.

Past chiefs include Lucky Luciano and Vito Genovese, who surprised their men by dying of natural causes.

Author Jerry Capeci said: "The Genovese family is arguably the most influential in the nation. They've been weakened but they are still a part of the fabric of the city." The FBI estimate they made more than pounds 6million since 1998.

Capeci added: "There is no crime too small or too large. If there is money to be made, they see an opportunity."

But this is their second major setback this year.

In April the FBI arrested 45 reputed gangsters, including 33 alleged Genovese members and associates, in raids in New York, Florida and Nevada.


PRAISE: FBI boss Barry Mawn; THE ODDFATHER; Eccentric Vincent "The Chin" Gigante is helped to a car by son Vincent on his way to jail in July for racketeering and plotting to kill rival Mafia chiefs; RESTAURANT; Big Frankie met Mafia gang bosses in Rigoletto; FISH MARKET; Genovese family ran city's Fulton fish market
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Copyright 2001 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Dec 7, 2001
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